The McLaren-Honda team had another disappointing qualifying session in Malaysia, with the team seeing both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso fall at the first hurdle, meaning both cars were eliminated from qualifying at the first stage for the second race weekend in a row.
Despite only qualifying down in seventeenth, Button believes the team have taken a big step forward at Sepang, and feels the race pace will be stronger than their single-lap qualifying pace. He bemoaned his failure of not getting the proper heat into the tyres that could have seen him make a challenge to get into the second part of qualifying.
“It was very difficult to get temperature into the tyres during the qualifying session – I really struggled in the first sector on every run I did, but was able to make the car work in the second and third sectors,” said Button.
“Before qualifying, I think we’d have hoped to be a bit closer to the cars in front of us, but this weekend has seen us take a massive step forward in performance.
“Also, I think our race pace – and our consistency over a long run – look like giving us a little extra. I’d like to think we could get closer to some of the cars in front tomorrow; that’ll be something to look forward to.
“There are a lot of positives to take from this weekend: we’ve made a big step forwards in terms of pace. There’s more to come from the engine and the aero package, but we know what to do.”
Team-mate Alonso qualified just behind Button, but admitted the performance of the McLaren so far in Malaysia had been much better than he had thought it would be ahead of his return to the cockpit.
“Our form today wasn’t unexpected, but I think our performance so far this weekend has maybe been better than I’d have anticipated before arriving here in Malaysia,” said Alonso.
“In fact, I’d say the progress we’ve made since Australia has been fantastic – we’re much closer to the cars in front now – but we’re still under-performing and we still need to improve.
“However, the steps we’re taking with the car show a lot of progress, so I’m optimistic that I won’t be qualifying in Q1 for that much longer.”
Alonso has not experienced the MP4/30 in the rain yet, and knows should it rain during the race on Sunday, it will be another part of the team’s learning process.
“If it rains tomorrow, it’ll be another learning process for the team,” said Alonso. “For me, too, the start procedure, the formation lap, the pit-stops – they’ll all be firsts for me as I wasn’t able to practise any of them in Australia. That makes me feel confident that there’s a lot more to come in the next few weeks.”
Alonso knows the aim for the McLaren-Honda is to beat the dominant Mercedes team, but realises it will take time, and is prepared to be patient with the team as they work through their problems.
“This isn’t an ideal position from which to start the race,” continued Alonso, “but I’m fully aware that McLaren-Honda is a long-term project: we want to beat Mercedes, and to do that you need time, and to be prepared to take your chances as they come.”